Publication 2178

Gash H. & Coffey D. (1995) Influences on attitudes towards children with mental handicap. European Journal of Special Needs Education 10: 1–16. Fulltext at
People begin to construct their understandings of other people in childhood. Some such constructs are referred to as prejudices. Studying ways children understand children with learning difficulties is one way to understand such constructions. Following insights from Jean Piaget and Ernst von Glasersfeld such constructions are influenced by the social experiences during childhood. Here different school experiences are shown to influence the children’s constructions in different ways. A sample of 125 girls in third and sixth class in two non-urban primary schools were given a questionnaire to assess their attitudes towards children with mental handicap. One school was integrated with two special classes of children with moderate mental handicap, the other school was not integrated. Results indicate that the girls in the integrated school are significantly more prosocial along dimensions having to do with sociability with, and social concern for children with mental handicap. Comparisons between this data set and a similar urban one reveal urban/non-urban differences in both attitude and understanding of academic difficulties. An intervention programme in the integrated school was evaluated and changes were noted in the attitudes of participants reflecting a maturing of the relationship towards children with mental handicap. Relevance: The value of inclusive experiences is shown in the different social representations constructed by children in different schools (one with experience of children with learning difficulty and the other without such experience).


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